Fort Worth, Texas – April 22, 2016. The Waco Court of Appeals, handed down a decisive win for elected officials and freedom of speech advocates in Harper v. Best, No. 10-15-00105-CV. Cantey Hanger partner, Mary H. Barkley, and associate, Christopher A. Brown, represented Paul Harper, an elected member of the Somervell County Hospital District, who was sued to remove him from office over expressing his ideas for the direction of the hospital district.
In a case arising out of Somervell County, Texas, a petition was filed to remove Paul Harper as a board member of the Somervell County Hospital District over his intentions to eliminate or reduce the hospital district’s tax. Harper filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to the Texas Citizens Participation Act, also known as the “Anti-SLAPP” statute. Finding that Harper’s actions were an exercise of his right to petition and right of free speech, the Waco Court of Appeals sided with Harper and reversed the trial court’s denial of the Anti-SLAPP Motion to Dismiss. The Court held, in an opinion by Chief Justice Gray, that the Texas Citizens Participation Act gives protections to elected officials who express politically controversial ideas within the political process.
The opinion states, “This case presents a new question in the evolution of a citizen’s interaction with government. . . . The question, as applied to this suit, is whether we have arrived at the place where an unhappy politically active citizen who runs for office and is elected in a general election can then be charged as incompetent when, as an elected officeholder, the elected official tries to constrain or even eliminate the organization to which he was elected. If the State of Texas can maintain a suit to hold an elected official incompetent under these circumstances, we have effectively criminalized the ability to shrink government by the political process. Historically there would be no way to summarily stop such a suit.”
This opinion is an important win for elected officials and First Amendment advocates because it ensures that elected officials’ ideas should be judged at the ballot box by the electorate and not by a lawsuit to remove them from office.
Cantey Hanger, established in 1882, is a full-service law firm headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas, and represents clients in the following practice areas: Aviation, Commercial Litigation, Corporate, Banking & Real Estate, Bankruptcy, Eminent Domain & Property Rights, Energy, Health & Insurance Law, Labor Relations, Public & Regulatory, and Tax & Estates. For more information, go to www.canteyhanger.com.
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